Spencer Wright runs “The Prepared” one of the best resources for Manufacturing professionals out there, “a newsletter, podcast and network for people working on real problems in the physical world” (if you haven’t subscribed already, I highly suggest you do!). He is a mechanical designer, product engineer and self-described “guy-who-makes-stuff” with a career that has spanned product development, project management, strategy, and manufacturing/operations. He works on highly specialized CAD software at nTopology, is the founder of The Public Radio and an avid Tulip customer and enthusiast.
A couple of weeks ago, Spencer published some videos describing how his team uses Tulip to manufacturing and ship The Public Radio, so we did a short interview with him to learn more. Even though his operations are considerably smaller than the bulk of our customers, the challenges he faces and the pain point Tulip solves, are not that different. We hope you enjoy the interview:
What is the The Public Radio project? What made you start it?
The Public Radio is a rare example of a piece of consumer electronics that's customized on a per-order basis. Its core thesis is that most FM radio listeners typically only listen to one station; they have a daily routine and they stick to it. The Public Radio, therefore, is an FM radio that comes pre-tuned to the user's station of choice. The idea, when we started working on it in 2013, was that by building the radio station into the product you'd be able to make a device that was as simple to use as possible, and that would slip into your daily routine immediately after putting the batteries in the first time. We sell The Public Radio through e-tail and also to public radio stations who use it as an incentive for fund drives.
What are you using Tulip for?
As it turns out, making customized consumer electronics is *hard,* and we needed a single system that would guide the operator through the programming, final assembly, and fulfillment processes. Tulip is the connective tissue in our entire manufacturing process. It manages all of our work instructions, retrieves & updates order data on our cloud-based database, tracks process & inventory issues, and serves as a key connecting point between us and our contract manufacturer. It also handles product variants and coordinates the actual programming of our devices.
How were you doing things before using Tulip?
Before switching to Tulip we were using a series of command line interface tools that we had developed ourselves. They were mostly stable and did more or less what they needed to do. But they weren't user friendly, were very difficult to update/modify, and needed to be supplemented with additional training & documentation materials.
Why did you decide to use Tulip?
We're a small team, and we needed something that was flexible and user friendly. We also needed something that had built-in connections to 3rd party hardware and API services - all things that Tulip could do out of the box. It was really a non-decision: Tulip was far and away our best option.
What are the main benefits you’ve gotten from using Tulip?
The flexibility that Tulip offers - having everything be drag-and-drop, being able to log into a remote station and see what's going on there - has been essential. It's allowed us to fix problems on the manufacturing line from thousands of miles away, and has saved us a *lot* of time and made us a better partner for our contract manufacturers too. We've also relied heavily on Tulip's API connectors, which have allowed us to develop our own tools and link them up to Tulip seamlessly.
What are your plans for using Tulip in the future?
There's definitely more that we can do with Tulip. I recently rebuilt our entire process from the ground up, and have a list of process improvements that'll get tackled over the next six months or so. Like with anything in manufacturing, it's a case of continuous improvement.
You curate The Prepared every week so you are up to date about the latest trends in manufacturing and have been in manufacturing for a while. Why do you think Manufacturing should care about Tulip and our self-serve manufacturing apps?
For me, Tulip is the perfect balance of self-service and powerful. Manufacturing engineering is a generalists' game, and it's frustrating when the toolchain requires a lot of specialized knowledge and requires handing the entire process over to a third party firm. Tulip gives me the ability to make changes quickly using drag-and-drop functionality, and it integrates seamlessly with our proprietary cloud-hosted apps for a system that's both user friendly and highly extensible. I see this as an ideal combination, which allows a generalist like myself to really take control and build an end-to-end solution that suits my business needs *and* our operational constraints.